I’m someone who has great confidence in the wisdom I first learned by attending 12-step meetings with my mom growing up: Fake it till you make it. However, and this is important, there are two main ways to go about this teaching: one which involves actually “making it” and one that doesn’t. It depends on what inward agency is driving the boat, as to which result is likely to manifest.
There’s a difference between pretending and practicing. Or as I sometimes like to say: pretending vs. rallying. I see the differences as such. Pretending is like believing in unicorns or playing hide & go seek and thinking the other person can’t see you under the blankets on a bed. It’s all in good fun, but you know on a realistic level that unicorns (unfortunately) are not real and that the other person will be able to know where you are as soon as they walk into the room. Pretending is based in non-reality, without basis of truth.
Practicing, on the other hand, is based on a deeper knowing of what is a real possibility. Everything takes practice. Everything. If we want to learn to play an instrument, we have to practice practice practice, in order to gain skill and mastery at it. If we want to learn a new language, we have to practice practice practice. And traits of character are the same. What seeds grow in the heart of our consciousness are the same. If we want to grow and strengthen seeds of joy, ease, kindness, honesty, authenticity, openness, understanding, and so on, we must practice to water those seeds often and ongoingly.
The outcome that results is dependent on whether we’re going into whatever it is we’re trying to do, fueled by the energy of pretending or the energy of practice.
To listen to this post in audio on my podcast: https://soundcloud.com/inmindfulmotion/being-peace
The practice of cultivating joy – and its companion practice of smiling – are largely misunderstood. So often, people remark about the perils of discrediting their feelings of anger or sorrow for the false pursuit of pretending to be happy when they aren’t. But practicing joy and practice to smile have nothing at all to do with covering up or disregarding painful experiences. We get so caught in dualistic ways of thinking that we are unable to appreciate the nature of how both things can happen and often are happening simultaneously. So it’s not that we’re picking up one and putting down the other, it’s that we’re holding both at the same time.
Another pitfall here, too, involves our habit energies and the momentum we’ve built up over a lifetime of not knowing how to experience suffering in a skillful way. We have a tendency to either sit and stew and marinate in our hardships when they arise or we cover them up and distract or numb ourselves in regards to them. Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) talks about how we prefer the suffering we’re used to and most familiar with. And along those lines, on a large level, we take comfort in our feelings of woe and struggle, regardless of what our approach is.
We have been practicing to suffer for a long time and not only that but we’ve been practicing in ways that keep us stuck and spinning in the same old stories. We all know how to suffer. What we don’t know how to do is be happy. We need to practice watering our seeds of joy and lessening the amount of water that we give to our seeds of suffering.
Our seeds of suffering are so strong and dominant in our mental/emotional landscape that they overshadow seeds which are more beneficial for us to grow. And these seeds are so used to getting our attention that they put up a fight when threatened with the possibility of losing their edge. So when we hear teachings on cultivating joy or the importance of smiling, our seeds of suffering throw a fit right away – they kick on their honey toned words and attempt to woo us back into relationship with them. And we tend to be persuaded by them. We buy into their argument of how joy and smiling are mere platitudes and how our struggles and anger and sorrow are somehow more “real” than that of generating peace and happiness. And this cycle will continue until we break it by learning how to practice joy and practice smiling and strengthening those seeds within ourselves.
Yep. This is me sharing about brushing my teeth. Riveting topic eh?! Actually, it is! This is precisely what engaged Buddhism is all about: Finding ways in which to bring the art of mindfulness into every aspect of our daily life.
One of the new mindfulness practices I’ve taken up recently centers around brushing my teeth. When I got back from Deer Park Monastery at the end of January, after a 3-week retreat stay, I came to see just how dispersed my energy was while brushing my teeth. As soon as I hastily squeezed a dollop of toothpaste onto my brush in the mornings I would quickly take to leaving the bathroom, and set to doing a myriad of things that really had no business in trying to be accomplished while in the midst of brushing. I might go outside and start my car to warm it up or prepare a fresh cup of tea or ready my lunch to take with me to work. I would do all sorts of things around the house with my toothbrush protruding from my mouth. I would actively brush for a bit and then proceed back to whatever multi-tasking “urgent” matter needed tending to. It was comical!
So my new practice is to “stay put”. To not leave the bathroom and to stay there in front of the sink while brushing my teeth. What I’m experiencing as a natural by-product is that by simply staying put I am also slowing down. It reminds me of how when I practice a day of silence, slowing down happens in tandem, seemingly on its own accord. By staying put I am automatically able to slow down, which affords me the opportunity to connect more readily with what I am doing. No longer am I hurriedly scrubbing my teeth as a sort of task to get out of the way. I’m practicing awareness of my teeth, of how fortunate I am to have them, and to care for them by slowing down and paying attention to the act of brushing. I’m practicing awareness of my breathing and of my gratitude for having running water. I’m practicing to feel my feet on the ground beneath me as I stand in front of the sink.
A couple of weeks ago a sangha member shared about how they’ve been practicing to slow down their personal teeth brushing regiment as a way to strengthen the development of patience, a particular quality they felt very weak on. Having not spoken of my own practice around this same subject, I was delighted to hear her timely sharing. The power and importance of having a community of support, a sangha, never ceases to inspire and astound me.
It’s still a new practice for me. It’s not uncommon for me to catch myself just as I’m about to leave the bathroom with my toothbrush in tow. But I do catch it. As my foot prepares to cross the threshold of the bathroom door, I remember. Then I smile to my strong habit energy, before returning back to my “staying put” spot in front of the sink.
Be Here Now Sangha at the airport!
Mike and I returned home around midnight on Friday, January 27th, after spending three weeks on retreat at Deer Park Monastery, and were greeted at the airport by some of our sangha friends sitting on meditation cushions in front of a bell – it was such a lovely welcoming! In one instance I was feeling tired and weary from a long day and late night and in the next I was refreshed – what wonders a community can bestow! My heart filled with so much joy when I saw their smiling faces. It was the best surprise!
Yesterday, I began feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the things needing to be done. Then I practiced to recognize my feelings and embrace them with care. My next step was determining what needed the most tending to and what could wait. It’s important to me to transition slowly and not do too many things right away, or all at once.
I went to the Good Food Store (our local, natural food market) and managed to time my trip there in what is often their busiest period: around lunchtime. I stood outside by my car for a few breaths, contemplating briefly whether or not I did, in fact, have to go in there. Quickly determining that being out of food in the house wasn’t really manageable, I took a few more breaths, grounded myself in my body, and prepared to enter the store with openness and joy. All things considered, it went swimmingly, though I was quite relieved when I was done and leaving.
After being sequestered in a monastery for three weeks, external stimulus takes some getting used to. There’s an adjustment period involved. So, I’m adjusting to a new rhythm and pattern and sway.
AND, I have daily writings that I’ll now start to share that I wrote while on retreat – so get ready for lots of words and pictures!
Part of me has always figured I’d make a good flight attendant. It’s the part of me that has to tuck her head in-between her knees for the 20 minutes prior to landing that has reservations. But other than the debilitating wave of vertigo and nausea that strikes me upon descent I’d be a shoe-in.
I love flying and I love people. It’s not that I love the flying itself. I love the flying experience. And it’s not so much that I love people individually but more that I love the experience of people.
As I’ve met only 1 or 2 others who don’t detest participating in metal-winged travel, I’d take great pride in being the flight attendant to help shift the collective pool of shared consciousness. The way I see it, we’ve been programmed to hate flying. And our hate spreads like the plague infecting everyone in our wake, thereby perpetuating and strengthening our cultural distaste.
The super good news is that hate isn’t the only thing that spreads. Positivity spreads, too. With my brass wings pin glinting in unison with my smile I’d win over one sour-puss traveler at a time, convincing them that enjoying the flight far exceeds loathing it, in the quality-of-life department.
As I made my way through the cabin handing out tiny, scratchy pillows, tiny plastic cups filled with 80% ice and 20% ginger ale, and tiny packets of peanuts, I’d throw in my cheery disposition free of charge, slyly coaxing others to rewrite a new internal story about what it means to partake in the awesomeness of flight travel.
P.S This post and yesterday’s post I borrowed from my writer’s facebook page, but many of my FB posts don’t travel here to my blog. If you’re interested in reading my daily musings please check out my page: https://www.facebook.com/InMindfulMotion/
Perhaps you’ve heard of this common myth: Death comes in three’s. While I’m not sure where this myth originated from, or what basis, if any, it holds in actual reality, I do know that I am currently experiencing it. This morning I found out that someone I know passed away last night: Brother Phap De, a monastic from Deer Park Monastery, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Phap De is the third person I know who’s passed away in the last month.
I’d gotten to know Phap De (pictured below holding the hands of two children during an outdoor walking meditation this past January) on my winter retreat stays at Deer Park over the last three years. Most notably, I spent time with him doing stick exercises, as he led them most mornings after sitting meditation. I greatly enjoyed his presence and approach to practice, the way he’d always remind us to smile while doing the exercises, his kind-heartedness, and his grandfatherly warmth.
A few days ago my 16-year-old stepson Jaden and I went out paddle boarding on Lake Como in the Bitterroot Mountains (in Montana, not Italy :). It was a beautiful sunny day. We decided to set our sights on making it to the waterfall at the other end of the lake, where Rock Creek spills in at the head of the lake. It took us about an hour and forty minutes to reach the waterfall and it was pretty smooth sailing the whole way. However, things changed quickly when we turned around and started heading back. The wind picked up and was coming right at us, making it very difficult to paddle. Every stroke was a struggle. We were hardly making any progress at all.
After a few minutes of hard paddling we headed for shore and decided to huff our boards down the hiking trail, which ran alongside the lake. We thought that if the wind settled down we’d hop back on the water but we soon discovered that our paddleboards were like giant wind sails as we headed down the trail so we made the call to deflate them, in the hopes that they’d be easier to manage. Hefting out our terribly awkward, deflated 20-pound boards (we weighed them when we got home) and paddles the 3-miles to the trailhead was the unplanned adventure part of our day.
I nanny part-time for two little boys. Yesterday we were all playing with some sticker boards, each depicting different landscapes with associating reusable stickers to place around them. There were boards and stickers to create an ocean, jungle, safari, farm and a prehistoric themed scene. We were looking at the under water ocean board, filled with a large host of sea life stickers, when I pointed to a small bat and said, light-heartedly, “Hey! What’s that bat doing in the ocean?!” Without missing a beat the oldest one, Finn, who’s soon to turn 3, said, very matter-of-factly, “That’s an ocean bat.” When I inquired further, about this fabled creature I had never heard about, he added that he had seen one in person the day before, in New Jersey. As the stickers were all cartoonish in nature the bat in question had purple ears. Finn then went on to say how bats that were pink lived out of the water but purple ones were most assuredly known as “purple ocean bats.” Not wanting to dissuade his lively imagination I simply smiled and nodded along, enjoying the creative story he had made up on the spot.
I offer this jovial account to help depict one of the fruits that develops as a result of the practice of sitting meditation: learning how to go with the flow. Of course, I’m not suggesting we come up with tall tales in order to make sense of things – in fact, I’d strongly warn against that – but we can learn how to creatively adapt to ever changing circumstances as they unfold, weaving a new story to help us move forward. The practice of sitting meditation can greatly aide us in these efforts.
When boiled down, sitting meditation can be described as a good way to become an observer of life. When we practice meditation we’re learning how to be with ourselves, just as we are, and to observe the nature of our thoughts that drift in and out. That’s why it’s often very challenging to do it. Most of us haven’t learned how to keep good company with our own person. Most of us live in a constant stream of self-judgement and condemnation, especially towards what arises in our mental landscape. When we’re able to develop our powers of observation we gain much needed perspective, which allows us to move through life with more ease.
Yep, that’s right. This post is about a new rug I just bought yesterday (pictured above). And while you may be wondering what the big deal is I’m proud to say that it is a rather big deal, of sorts, because it means that I don’t take lightly my consumeristic tendencies.
My husband, teenage step-son, 2 orange cats, and I have been living in our under 600 square-foot house for the past 13 years. Which, I might add, is under the average 750 square-foot New York City apartment size. Otherwise stated, we have a small little dwelling that we cohabitate. It’s a cozy and lovely home. Given the small size we are naturally afforded the important opportunity to carefully choose what to surround ourselves with. Having a small home is really a great luxury and offers many conveniences – one of which is to be more mindful about what and how we consume (it’s a convenience because more stuff equates to more money spent, more work to do, more cleaning and upkeep – less stuff simply means less to do!). Mike and I are thrifty and eco-minded in nature but, as we’ve spent most of our married life together in this small house, its size has allowed for a strong foundation to be further cultivated in regards to being more mindful consumers.